By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

An anonymous straw man

Doug Bailey want you to know there’s a local blog out there that’s not as reliable as maybe it should be. (Imagine that.) But he doesn’t want you to know what the blog is. Bailey, a former Boston Globe staffer-turned-media consultant, writes on the Globe’s op-ed page:

I recently contacted a blog that has apparently gained a reputation as an “authoritative source” on local news to point out an outrageously inaccurate — and easily verifiable — item posted on the site, attributed to one of its many “insiders.” The editor of the site conceded to me his “inside” information had actually come from an anonymous posting he saw on a newspaper website. If this wasn’t outrageous enough, this site has developed a following among traditional media reporters who apparently believe this blogger is wired and who regularly republish his missives unaware that his “exclusive” sources come from anonymous comments on their own websites. The identities of the “insiders” are unknown even to the original blogger.

Without the name of the blog and its author, and a chance for him to respond, the value of Bailey’s anecdote is approximately zero. Let’s have it, Doug. And let’s see the Globe give his target an opportunity to defend himself.

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  1. rozzie02131

    Too bad that Doug Bailey hijacked his own argument with the attack on the unnamed blog. Otherwise, I was much in agreement with his main point, which is that something is seriously wrong with newspaper website comment sections. I don't mind anonymity, it's all over the web, but on most sites it's easy to identify anonymous personalities. On newspaper websites there are way too many crazy people spewing crap.

  2. aml

    I don't know which site Baily is talking about, but I've essentially given up on trying to correct Bostonist's on their mistakes. The house style of reportedly doesn't allow [links to external sites] (although there aren't as many links as I'd like, you can find them on many articles.) Globe Reruns NYT Article with No Comment or Credit and a Different Dateline (the Globe didn't. did, except it did have attribution and it was nothing new.)Eventually I decided that they had the story they wanted to write, and will use whatever facts, rumors, or random guesses that they want to support them.

  3. aml

    Oh, and more to the point of the article: whether comments add or detract from a newspaper article. Some comment sections can be interesting, especially if the moderation is strong and there is an interaction between the original authors (or at least someone else working for the web site publisher and has some knowledge of the subject matter at hand.)On the other hand, if the author doesn't want to interact with the readers, then you'll wind up with something closer to what Baily describes and the comments section is better off not being was relatively late in adding comments to news articles, within the last few years. Has the the addition of comments significantly added to the experience for the readers? Given anything to the reporters? Added to pageviews?

  4. Art

    I'll second and expand on aml's last point.The Globe's comments sections have become increasingly active only recently, at least in the Arts and Culture areas, where my interests are. There are some thoughtful comments, and then there are many, many who just think the whole idea of criticism is stupid and that the critics should shut up.But, most baffling, is how little the Globe interacts with the community that is commenting. Many MSM arts editors in major cities have cultivated blogs that engage the leaders, audience and participants of the arts community.The Globe is taking a long time to follow suit. Geoff Edgers Exhibitionist Blog hasn't really caught on as such, but I don't think it is designed to be. (And Geoff, frankly, is usually pretty busy doing the digging on some pretty good stories.)But the distance between the readership and the paper does seem unusually wide at times. For instance, the Huntington Theatre's Michael Maso sent a boatload of audience members over to comment on Louise Kennedy's review of Pirates!. This event spawned analysis throughout the blogosphere and a even a few mentions by mainstream critics, as well as in the Guardian. On the Globe's site itself? Crickets. Maybe it was posturing? "Commenters really don't matter to us, sigh."Of course, the quality of the comments, which Bailey is going on against, is a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way. The comment functions for some major media aren't really dynamic enough, or are policed too heavily.For instance, links to outside sites can be grounds for deletion. It is a tough bind, because they want, obviously, to keep readers. And they don't want spam to pervade. But I guess my question is, what do they really want with the comments section?It appears sometimes that they just want to try and fool people into thinking that they are interested in building community with their online readers.

  5. mike_b1

    The number of reporters who are in touch with their surroundings is directly proportional to the number who have thick skin. And few reporters have thick skin.

  6. bostonmediawatch

    "Has the the addition of comments significantly added to the experience for the readers? Given anything to the reporters? Added to pageviews?"What do YOU think?The purpose of having comments has nothing to do with some notion of "Community".Nobody cares WHAT goes on in comments, as long as SOMETHING's going on in comments.Do you think Walmart cares about the QUALITY of its customers?

  7. aml

    @bostonmediawatch: No I don't think the Globe added comments just because "it cares" for us, or it is really trying to generate a sense of community. But they had some sort of need they were trying to fill, and was trying to imagine how successful they may have been (and also hypothisizing on what the needs actually were.) One reason web sites have for user comments in general that it gives the reader some sort of buy-in or connection to the site, even if it is artificial. The notion is that if a reader makes that sort of connection they will more likely return. (and one of the differences between a web reader and a newspaper subscriber is that it takes some effort for a subscriber to opt-out. It takes work to get returning readers.) If commenting readers return more than non-commenting readers, then they win.Another can be that just the act of commenting creates an additional pageview or more (one to read the article. If there is a textbox already at the bottom to fill out, the second one when you click "Post". Add a third if you have to click a "click here to make a comment" link. This will increase pageviews and the "pages visited per session" metric. If you check back to see if your comments were further commented on etc you further increase the pageviews. This one is pretty simple to judge, if you have comments, then additional pageviews have been created. How many get added though? I'm guessing only a small percentage the daily traffic.The "give anything to a reporter" I worded a little awkwardly. I was trying to describe some sort of possible editorial decisions based on comments. It could be as simple as a weekly report of most commented on articles. If someone sees that certain articles get heavily commented on, and runs another on a similar topic to encourage more comments, then adding the commenting feature actually has changed the editorial focus. Other metrics could be their "Most Emailed" or most searched. I'll admit this one is a bit of a stretch.They don't have to care what goes in the comments, or even if something goes in them. They didn't need to add article comments though. They chose to do it. I wish I was convinced that they got what they wanted, even as I'm trying to figure out what they wanted after all.

  8. thedailyreason

    Oh man. Perfect. (link is to image URL.)

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